Landscaping on a Budget

Luxury Landscaping on a Budget: My Top Strategies for Planning Beautiful Outdoor Spaces (you can actually afford)

Do you see the picture above? Can you imagine yourself inviting your best friends over for a Saturday of R & R, drinking a few cocktails as you all catch up from your busy lives? Or, imagine this – reading your favorite book from the porch as your family plays with the dog out in the yard?

Many homeowners just like you want the same thing. A welcoming retreat that you look forward to enjoying and where you want to spend some quality “me” time.

Maybe it’s a landscape, that’s full of plants that pop, and change color throughout the season.


This landscape is not reality for most of us.

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What Most Of Us Have as a Starting Place

Most of our house’s look more like the picture below.

Bland Curb Appeal and Landscaping - The Place Where Most Homeowners Start

If this doesn’t look like your home, then you at least have seen one like it. It’s not the worst landscape, but as a professional landscape designer I believe a landscape should inspire you and make you feel whole – one with nature.

Do you feel inspired by this landscape above?

The Dream vs Reality (how I suggest you approach landscaping on a budget)

Some problems you may be currently facing are:

  • You’re not a landscaper/designer.
  • Your budget doesn’t support your wants.
  • Too busy to learn how to design and/or install your dream landscape.

I’m here to help.

As a former landscaper (I owned and ran a landscape construction company for 20 years) turned landscape designer, I’ve got some ideas that could help you both design and afford your dream yard.

I’m happy to share some of these ideas with you today.

Planning Your Landscape Design

Planning your landscape design starts with asking (and answering) some questions:

  • What’s the size of your space?
  • Where are the water spigots located?
  • What is your Wishlist?
  • Would you like to hire a designer or DIY your design?

With any landscape project, planning is without a doubt the most important step. As your wise grandpa may have told you: Don’t put the cart before the horse.

Planning Your Landscape Design - Landscape Design Drawing / Sketch

Here are some reasons that planning is important…

Setting a Realistic Budget

You plan to build a landscape that you can afford, or you risk disappointment.

Ask yourself, how much can you spend?

Remember that landscaping is as close to a luxury as you can get.

When I say luxury, I mean something we don’t need to survive (like food to eat, or a roof over our heads).

Let’s say you feel comfortable only spending a $100, that’s great, maybe it’s a $1,000, well there you go.

Just be realistic with your expenditures.

Making Your Wish List

What are your landscape goals?

Do you want a seating area to have dinner with your future wife or husband? How many people will you need seats for? Do you just want beautiful plants? Do you want a water feature? How about a pergola to get out of the sun?

Basically, we need to figure out what you want?

My professional advice is to list as much as you can write down. Stop at nothing.

When you’re finished, the second part of this exercise is more difficult. Now you have to give each item on your wish list a number (1 is the most important – meaning that #1 is the one we need the most).

Needs come first before wants in this exercise.

Sketch Some Ideas

Grab a piece of paper, preferably graph paper (photo below is my sketch plan) and sketch out your landscape.

Landscape Design Sketch Plan from Mario Basara of Green Dream Designs

If you don’t have a measuring tape, then go buy one, they’re $5 at Harbor Freight. Mark out the distances of the exterior walls of your house, the length of the yard, etc. We need to see what we’re working with.

Also, you can start marking out all the existing items that will stay and mark out all your site’s obstructions. These need to be consider before constructing our new landscape.

For example, a sewage vent or a spigot, or a large tree you absolutely love. These items all need to be marked down on the sketch and considered for your design.

Mark out were your exterior doors, windows, lawns and fence are as well.

Gather Some Inspiration

Head over to Houzz, Pinterest, or Google photos and start saving pictures to a file.

Anything that interests you, save it!

  • Maybe it’s the color of the plants or pavers.
  • Maybe it’s the design of a raised bed.
  • Or maybe you like the water feature.

Doesn’t matter just save them.

Gathering eye-catching ideas and design elements that you’re drawn to will help you or your design partner craft a space that you’ll love.

It’s Time to Design

Time to release the artsy part of you.

On a blank sheet of paper, layout your house and property again, drawing the perimeter of the fence and any other object that’s big and permanent.

Designing Your Landscape on a Budget - Putting Pencil to Paper

Now, start laying out your new landscape design. Include patios, water feature, pools, etc.

Its okay to make mistakes and redo.

Grab a new sheet and keep drawing until you feel you’ve got your wishlist well represented. If everything doesn’t make it into the design that’s ok – start with the important items.

Once you’ve got this rough plan in-hand, you’re ready for the next step, but remember – if you don’t want to do this part (or struggle with it), I recommend going to a website like UpWork and hiring a landscape designer to draw this up for you. Their prices can be quite favorable, and you can find a great designer who may not live in your immediate area.

Installation – The Exciting Part

Mario Basara - Window Well Installation on a Landscaping Project

So that guy over there is me, creating a custom window well out of landscape blocks.

Now before installation, there are a few questions we need to ask and answer…

  • Can you install everything yourself? Or do you need help?
  • When do you need this completed? Yesterday? Or can your project be spanned out over 5 years.

If you’re like most of my clients you probably fall somewhere in the middle.

But asking and answering these questions will help you take the landscaping plan you’ve made and make that a reality.

It will tell you what you can afford in materials and labor.

Budgeting For and Buying Your Materials

How much will it cost? Let’s revisit our budget and wish list.

Take each one of your items that you included in your design and give it a price. Break each price up into materials and labor.

This might feel impossible if you’ve never done it before, but my advice is to start with a guess and then do some research to see how close you are to reality.

For example, this window well. It probably took 16 hours from planning, completing the design, to installing it and cleaning up after the project was complete.

The project material was only about $100. So if your going to pay someone, a project like this could cost up to $1,000. But if you do it yourself it could cost about $200 (because you will need to buy tools and cover some delivery and transportation fees).

Each one of your items that you designed will need to be priced based on materials and labor. This information will allow you to figure out if your budget allows you to pay someone, or if to achieve your desired landscape design you’ll need to build it yourself to save money.

Landscaping on a Shoestring Budget

Let’s say you don’t have any money … are you out of luck? Not necessarily. In this case you will need to source free material.

Maybe you have a friend who has a creek, that he will allow you to pull stones from it for a wall.

Craigslist has a bunch of people giving away free landscape material like bricks and plants if you haul it yourself.

Even if you have a small budget, you can improve your landscaping if you aren’t afraid of hard work and are able to get creative.

My Final Thoughts About Planning Your Landscaping Project

Everything revolves around time and money when it comes to landscaping.

If you’ve got the money, but want the experience and satisfaction of building something yourself, go ahead!

For some on a limited budget, DIY is a necessity to make your plans become a reality.

Either way, planning out your project using some of the techniques I’ve shared here will decrease headaches, save time, and save you money.

Planning Your Landscaping Project and Creating the Yard of Your Dreams on a Budget

Eventually all your planning will lead to your very own luxurious landscape – a space that aligns with your priorities, and that can offer you a sense of pride knowing you’ve created a functional, beautiful space that you can enjoy for years to come.


Originally from Pittsburgh, PA, Mario Basara has a landscape design degree from The New York Institute of Art and Design. His landscaping career began in college, cutting grass alongside his best friend. After earning his degree, this blossomed into a two-decade-long venture as the owner of a landscaping construction company. Today, he designs landscapes for a diverse clientele from the heart of the Amazon, where he lives with his family. Visit his website,, to learn more.

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